Fighting RSI (Part 2)

As detailed in part 1, I already removed a major cause of RSI related pain by getting another mouse.

Nonetheless, I’m still having an awkward position and experience pain for two reasons:

  • I have to bend my hands inwards to type on a standard keyboard.
  • To make sure that my new trackball is not too far to the right, I had to move the keyboard too far to the left.

So I have to get a better keyboard.

The world of ergonomic keyboards is smaller than you’d think, way more expensive than you’d think and in a word: weird.

First of all, there’s the real weird and expensive devices (priced above $800):

TouchStream LP


Both of these combine keyboard and mouse, are ridiculously expensive and have a rather steep learning curve. I want something more common (plus I really cannot afford these), so I’m looking into different solutions.

What I want

  • A device that won’t make it difficult for me to use normal keyboards. If I’d go with a real weird form factor or a completely new keyboard layout, it’d be difficult to use other people’s keyboards. I’m an advocate of don’t take the keyboard away, but when doing pair programming (of which I am nevertheless also an advocate), it’s vital.
  • A device that is appropriate for programming. There are several ergonomic keyboards out there which obviously focus on writing natural language, mapping the special characters to impractical key sequences. I need one that is convenient for programming.
  • A device that is appropriate for gaming and using programs such as the Gimp and Blender.
  • A device that won’t require me to install special drivers, manually remap keys or reconfigure my operating system significantly.

After a lot of research (a considerable part of this was on slashdot) I decided to take a closer look at the following three options:

Kinesis Contoured

I wanted to own this device the moment I first saw it: It looks rather like a normal keyboard while taking the difference in finger length into account and providing sensible tasks for the thumbs (which are ignored by most keyboards). It also has a built-in macro recorder, a pretty neat feature. The price is $299.

It has three problems in my opinion:

  • It splits the number row between the 5 and the 6, not between the 6 and the 7 which is more common with ergonomic keyboards and supports the way I touch type.
  • It requires me to press space with the right thumb while I’m used to pressing it with the left one. I certainly need this for several games, especially shooters. I’d have to remap the key.
  • It’s apparently not possible to customise it physically, which is what ergonomics is all about as far as I know.

It seems to be popular among Emacs users experiencing the Emacs Pinky, but I don’t have that problem, probably because I use both hands for each shortcut (e.g. right ctrl + f and left ctrl + n).

Kinesis Freestyle

Pretty much a normal keyboard divided into two parts, with the added benefit of ommitting the space wasting numpad. There’s several kits available with which it can be adjusted to all sorts of positions. The only problem with this one is that chord on top: my cat might try to eat that. The price is $99 and the price of the most reasonable kits (VIP and incline) is $40.

Goldtouch Adjustable Ergonomic Keyboard

Basically like the Freestyle, with the difference that the parts cannot be seperated completely. It can be adjusted to several positions without any addons though. The price is $129.

My choice

According to the reviews and testimonies I read, everyone owning one of these was pretty happy with it.

Although I think it’s a very cool device, I decided not to buy the Kinesis Contoured. It’s the most expensive one and it has a couple of problems which I am not willing to accept at that price. It’s also quite huge and the weirdest out of these three.

So it was either the Goldtouch or the Kinesis Freestyle. The Goltouch seems to be a reasonable device but eventually, I was so impressed by the Freestyle’s customisation options that I decided to buy it, at first only the Solo variant.

I’ll detail my adventures with the Freestyle in part 3.